“A refreshing reminder that it is okay to have an extremely limited budget or to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. “
Before he was a cinematic giant with multiple Academy Award nominations, Yorgos Lanthimos’ first experimental feature film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005, when he was 32 years old. It marks the beginning of the important relationship between Lanthimos, cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis, and editor Yorgos Mavropsaridis, without whom we would not have masterpieces such as Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Almost fifteen years later, Kinetta is finally premiering on the big screen in the United States at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. The title refers to a Greek beach town in West Attica that often produces swarms of gnats that are so intense it feels almost Biblical. The film depicts the strange hobby of three nameless people: a maid who aspires to be an actress, a lonely photographer, and an exploitative police officer who is obsessed with BMWs. All three meet at a beach resort during the off-seasonand ritualistically reenact brutal crime scenes together. The police officer is the assailant, the maid plays the victim, and the photo clerk films the encounter. Consequently, Lanthimos leads us into a meditation on filmmaking in which the lines between performance and reality are blurred.
The Wikipedia page for Kinetta asks: “Does this alliance lead somewhere?” I would argue the answer is no, nor is there any motivation behind it, but that doesn’t mean the film isn’t worth your time. Kinetta is an experimental story told in fragments, without much dialogue or plot development. The camera work is pretty rough, and the pacing often drags. However, if watched closely, Kinetta reveals shards of classic Lanthimos tools which would come to define the Weird Greek New Wave: isolated characters, robotic acting, deadpan humor, some seriously sexually tense moments without reprieve, violence, stylized framing, and an indifferent cinematic eye. Dogtooth is traditionally thought of as the film that ushered in the Weird Wave, but Kinetta is too outright weird to ignore. It also contains some sincerely human moments that will make you crave a hug, such as the maid and the photographer listening to music together in the car. In a film mostly devoid of feeling, these diamonds in the rough appear.
Another notable aspect of Kinetta is the way Lanthimos pointedly glares at men who use power to exploit women, specifically through the casting process. He addresses this so many years before hashtags were ubiquitous on social media, let alone #metoo. The most uncomfortable and disturbing scenes in the film involve the police officer coaxing various unnamed women into his home under the guise that they will be cast, only to make them take their clothes off as part of the “scene”. Methodically, the photo clerk takes their “headshots” and then the women head to “casting”, always with the same end result. The camera observes these casting sessions with the same cold indifference as it does with every other scene, which heightens the alarming tone. It is unclear how connected the photo clerk is with the scheme, or if this is how the maid became involved, but the overall meaning is clear. He does this to the women and gets away with it, simply because he can.
In a world that puts a lot of pressure on young and new filmmakers to be perfect, Kinetta is a refreshing reminder that it is okay to have an extremely limited budget or to throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. It is easy to get discouraged by that pressure, but it is important to remember that everyone has to decipher their own original cinematic language through a process.
Although it is not a masterpiece, Kinetta is the film that landed Lanthimos into the film festival circuit because it announced the arrival of a new, weird viewpoint, both in style and substance.
Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos
Prod: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Cast: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos
Kinetta is being distributed in NYC for a limited run by Kino Lorber. You can watch the trailer here: